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Re-boot or Revolution?

Issues

Tom Belford19 July 2020

As published in July/August BayBuzz magazine

As articles for the July/August Baybuzz arrived on my desk over the past weeks, I was struck by two themes – the optimism about the future that permeated them and relatively modest nature of the changes being discussed.

Even in an especially hard-hit sector like tourism, our writers were reporting that leaders were upbeat and revving their engines. I had noted a Business HB report that projected 8,000 job losses in Hawke’s Bay as a result of Covid, so why weren’t we hearing pleas and plans for radical change … revolution even?!

So I threw this question – We’re supposed to be aiming for a re-set, a ‘new normal’ … but where are the truly revolutionary ideas? – to some people I know to have consistently raised serious concerns about the ‘state of affairs’ in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand and the wide world beyond over the years.

You’ll recognise most of the names – ecologist/designer David Trubridge, columnist Bruce Bisset, our own iconoclast, orchardist Paul Paynter, social advocate Maxine Boag and farming ‘radical’ Phyllis Tichinin.

Each of these folks has lobbed grenades over the wall of status quo. I think of them as provocative; I’ve heard others say worse.

I was anticipating that they would serve up quite specific ideas, like Rod Drury’s challenge that all NZ domestic lights be on electric planes within 10 years. Or that we might move forward our NZ ‘pest free’ goal to 2030. Or that PanPac might build a local biorefinery instead of letting some upstart called Futurity do it in Gisborne instead.

And indeed, some crisp ideas did surface.

Soil expert Phyllis was true to form. She proposed making Hawke’s Bay the “World’s First Mycorrhizal Region” – this has something to do with converting pine slash, of which we have plenty, into a high value soil nutrient which we could use ourselves and export. [This probably bears examination on another occasion!]

More relatable – I’ll bet – to many of our readers was another of her suggestions, this one to perk up our tourism sector: Becoming a mecca for “End of life awareness experiences, featuring guided psychedelic therapy”. I can see this being a great tonic for our dreary winter season. Do you have to be an out-of-towner … or near death?

Seriously, Phyllis offered a comprehensive, thoughtful reform package that integrated ‘grow your own’, waste conversion, food and soil health, transportation, housing and other innovations, all building on this theme:

“The vision is to utilise our special regional assets to advantage while improving our environment and quality of life. We have the sunshine, comparatively clean air, the soils and a spirit of innovation that could pull this off. As concerted initiatives with local government backing, these would not only enhance our personal lives but make great media fodder to foster demand for our unique suite of HB products and services.” We’ll publish her full programme with this article on the BayBuzz website.

Maxine Boag was also true to form, focusing on the people and social equity side of Hawke’s Bay. She suggested more adoption of the four-day work week. I can hear some cheers. And she proposed using “Doughnut Economics” as our new model to frame decisions and measure success.

She’d like to encourage community connectedness – for example, via housing in the CBD to enliven it, especially as more people are working from home and retailers are struggling, along with removing barriers for communal ways of living like Papakainga and Urban Habitat Collective.

But probably her most provocative suggestion:

Pressuring all councils “to look at their ‘heroes and statues and take a stand… where does one stop? A worthwhile exercise could be to look at the history of our colonial heroes including Charles James Napier, who helped quash the indigenous people of India; Havelock, Hastings, Clive, all named by Dommett after so-called British heroes in the colonisation of India. There were some brutal battles which we now have named streets and suburbs after – for example, Meanee from the battle of Miani, where Napier’s army won (“I have Scinde”, his most famous pun/quote after conquering Scinde).”

“Maybe it’s time for us to look at those names (none of which celebrates anything local – or even anyone who ever visited here!) and consider replacing or co-naming with Maori names. Even McLean, who in the eyes of many Maori enabled enormous tracts of land to be taken from mana whenua, needs to be looked at by all of us from the eyes of those who he helped dispossess of their land.”

Maxine’s key theme: “The current striking inequities between Maori (also Pasifika) and Pakeha in terms of health, justice, education, housing, wealth, well-being are enormous and maybe now is a good time for us to sit down with our Treaty partners and ask how these can be overcome in our ‘reboot’.”

But then my request for ‘boldness’ got out of control, reaching far beyond more of us HBers simply working from home more!

Maybe revolution instead?

David Trubridge lit the fire by calling for the ‘taming of capitalism’.

“All our ills today, from racism to climate change, from air pollution to ocean destruction, from wars to refugees and migrants, are caused by capitalism. Black lives really matter right now, but it is not just black lives, it is also brown ones and poor ones, and women, and wild animals and trees and coral reefs—LIFE matters. Western lifestyles are predicated on devastating poor countries globally and poor communities locally, on ripping up their land for mines, cutting down their forests, hoovering up their fish and enslaving their people in sweatshops. But we are all slaves to capitalism …

“It will not happen under any of the western leftish oppositions, such as Labour or Democrats, as they too are part of the system … Only massive change will solve all these problems and that will require a massive fight. ‘They’ own the guns and will not give up easily.”

But he eventually pragmatically tones down: “I deliberately said “tame capitalism” not because I have any desire to see it continue, but because I think doing that has the best chance of getting somewhere. To talk of alternatives like revolution, socialism or, god forbid, communism, will scare far too many people off and we will get nowhere.”

Paul Paynter then rose in defence of capitalism.

In his historical view, “The progress in bringing the emerging world out of poverty is quite remarkable and mostly based on capitalism and free trade.” And he proffered World Bank charts to back it up.

“For me the problem is a failure of government in terms of good regulation. Governments start wars, manage immigration, foreign investment, tax law, financial regulation and a whole lot of things that have caused endless problems. We have capitalism for the poor and socialism for the rich … there is no material difference between National and Labour.”

His concession to ‘taming’ capitalism: “I agree we can easily become slaves to capitalism until we can quench our desire or abandon it.  The same is true of conquest, lust, gluttony and a myriad of other things.  We’re not good with temptation.  Again it isn’t capitalism, but human nature reflecting itself in a capitalist domain.”

“I don’t think profit or capitalism is inherently evil. Profit becomes bad when the shareholders are disconnected with the employees and the community. Most small business people I know take huge personal risks in starting businesses, are kind to their staff and have broader community interests. They are not the rapacious profit at all costs types. So it’s big corporations, particularly multinationals that are the worry. A shareholder in NY, doesn’t care about what impacts a mine has in the Philippines or how many die down the shaft.”

His solution: “The most realistic (and I’d say best) solution is to fix capitalism … My worry is that the alternative put up is socialism, which killed off 100-200 million people in the 20th century (Russia and China are cagey on the exact number) and revealed most of the vices of human nature even more viciously as capitalism has.”

Bruce Bisset then jumped in bare-knuckled as always: “Capitalism is a greed-based system that relies on a fiction (money) to work … at the cost of the world’s most precious resources, which are both real and finite.” At the root of it is debt: “…where it went wrong was as soon as someone realised you could use money itself to make more money… and consequently enslave people with debt.” Some support from Paynter: “The ultimate collapse is going to be of the financial system, most likely.”

Bisset then utters a heresy that few will admit to, certainly not politicians: “What we need – as a country and a planet, not just Hawke’s Bay – is to re-focus on a ‘degrowth’ economy, one that centralises people and communities and, preferably, does away with the profit motive altogether.”

“People see this ‘pastoral fortress mentality’ as somehow bad. On the contrary: it’s a living future, as opposed to a dead one. And New Zealand is one of very few places in the world where it could be successfully done – to sustainable, lasting effect.”

Just how bad is it?

Trubridge says: “Everyone has to accept that we never had it so good as pre-Covid, and never will again. That is the cost of saving human life as we know it. From here on it gets tough or we go bung — which will be a lot tougher!”

And it’s affecting our kids: “If you asked any young person today about how they feel, you would expose an enormous sense of anxiety. It is endemic in schools — ask any teacher. And this is because of the climate crisis and a growing awareness of the instability of human existence. That is a massive black cloud hanging over us! Yes we have never had it so good — but at what devastating cost?”

Bisset argues: “The problem with – ‘Yes the system’s bad, but we can fix it if we take more care’ … is that it’s predicated on the basis of endless resources. Driving off the cliff in a Tesla instead of a Chevy. It also relies on another little thing we have no more of … time. Because regardless of the make of vehicle, we are already over the cliff, and falling. All we can do now is try to make the landing as soft as possible.”

But instead of “deploying a parachute”, we’re on a path to “hit the ground hard” … “The world’s resources are both finite and rapidly being exhausted through capitalist greed. This makes collapse to barbarism likely within our grandchildren’s lifetimes.”

Paynter seems ambivalent. On the one hand: “Capitalism and democracy drive me crazy, but they have delivered the best world we’ve ever had. On the whole this is the fairest, kindest, richest, freest society in history … this is roughly the best time in history to be alive and the majority of people in most countries would take the deal today over the way it was 100 or 500 or 2000 years ago when short lives and brutal tyrannies were ubiquitous.”

But in the end: “I agree that a hard landing and barbarism is the mostly likely outcome eventually. Democracy will ensure it, but the alternatives have limited appeal. The best policies are inconvenient and always get watered down for votes.”

Where does this philosophising lead?

For Trubridge: recommendations that include a resilient independent economy for NZ, taxes that incentivize buying domestically, community control over environmental decisions, transitioning to only renewable fuels (no carbon off-setting) and ban ICE vehicles from urban centres.”

Paynter: “I think Technology is our only hope and there are some potentially huge breakthroughs on energy production in the works.

“Also the best thing is to make the poorer parts of the world richer fast. This makes them more aware of the environment and much less likely to have so many kids. I think we could have a falling population in 30 years.”

And Bisset: Community governance and land use reform: “…the ‘grow more/export more’ corporate model needs to be done away with, by repurposing large farms into sustainable family- and community-based enterprises whose main purpose is simply to sustain those working the land.”

What are they going to do?

Given their rather bleak view of our future, how do these guys plan to proceed?

Trubridge: “The best we can do is build our local communities and work out from there … constantly plug away with our message and try to encourage enough of those in the middle to oppose racism, to not buy sweatshop labour, to just not buy all the stuff that we don’t need and that is killing people and life.”

Paynter: “I’m going to start by being as good a capitalist as my nature allows … This is a limp solution I admit.” And, “You can only build a better situation by changing what you can. Then maybe you can inspire friends, neighbours & the ripples can make a difference.”

Bisset: “I am still trying to make what difference I can for whatever that’s worth … knowing it won’t last; knowing my children are likely doomed to live lives of unrelenting hardship and despair. What else can I do? Nothing except urge those of you who have some bounce and sway to sew like crazy to make that parachute.”

And he gets the last word: “IF you’re at least trying to make a difference, at base, that’s all any of us can do. That, and hold to a smidgen of hope.”

***

I’ll wager that some readers are responding negatively to the gloomy pessimism of these gents.

To that I would say, none of these individuals has given up the fight. They care about matters of consequence to us all. Each is determined to influence change, still trying to avoid the future they fear is upon us. And that goes for Phyllis and Maxine as well.

How many of us can say that?

To spark further discussion — I hope BayBuzz readers will find it provocative and weigh in — I’ve included below the entire email exchange between Trubridge, Paynter and Bisset, which carried on over a few days.

Capitalism, Democracy and Other Infirmities

10 June – David Trubridge

We need to realise that racism is not an isolated human aberration. Racism is fundamental to colonialism, where economic powers exploit poor countries. Colonialism did not end with the British Empire—it is just as alive today. But colonialism itself is only a manifestation of the ultimate problem: today’s capitalism, where 1% suck dry the remaining 99%. Capitalism is white supremacy. Baton-wielding police are not protecting law and order, they are protecting the wealth and status of the few. They are protecting capitalism.

All our ills today, from racism to climate change, from air pollution to ocean destruction, from wars to refugees and migrants, are caused by capitalism. Black lives really matter right now, but it is not just black lives, it is also brown ones and poor ones, and women, and wild animals and trees and coral reefs—LIFE matters. Western lifestyles are predicated on devastating poor countries globally and poor communities locally, on ripping up their land for mines, cutting down their forests, hoovering up their fish and enslaving their people in sweatshops. But we are all slaves to capitalism, beguiled by the trinkets it dangles at us.

We will not solve any of these issues on their own. We can only solve them all together by taming capitalism. It will not happen under any of the western leftish oppositions, such as Labour or Democrats, as they too are part of the system. The EU talks about climate change while subsidising airlines and ocean fishing fleets. Lobbying power is too great whatever the colour of the government.

Only massive change will solve all these problems and that will require a massive fight. ‘They’ own the guns and will not give up easily. I am sorry, this is not pretty, but if we are honest I can see no other way. Too many people are degraded and marginalised by capitalism, they are made powerless to act. Therefore it is up to us to put the house in order.

David
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10 June – David

If the majority actually want to be perennial turkeys voting for Xmas then what can — what SHOULD — we do? I don’t believe that I have the right to force a majority to change. But of course I will do all I can to persuade them. Isn’t that all we can do? But it is getting harder and harder to get a true message through, past all the contrary winds of lies and disinformation. That is what we have to do and what you are doing. The best we can do is build our local communities and work out from there.

I strongly believe that the bulk of most populations are uncommitted in the middle, like sheep to put it bluntly. On either side of them there are small groups of passionate, opposing views, those who care and think beyond themselves and those you don’t. At any one time, whichever of these is the most compelling will sway enough sheep for them to prevail. After Chch Adern got in first and swayed the nation towards caring, to shaming racist views. But it was in the balance and if we had had a vocal enough right-winger it could have gone the other way. We are not so different from America as we like to think.

So what else can we do but to constantly plug away our message and try to encourage enough of those in the middle to oppose racism, to not buy sweatshop labour, to just not buy all the stuff that we don’t need and that is killing people and life. If I feel that it is becoming like banging my head against a brick wall I will just retire and live out the rest of my life as best I can trying not to watch the disaster.

David
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10 June – Paul Paynter

David,
I agree with your sentiment but not the diagnosis or solution.

Capitalism has pro’s and con’s.

If you look at the GDP trends the western (mostly white) world is languishing, while emerging world is doing much better. Of course it’s easier to do so off a impoverished base. The progress in bringing the emerging world out of poverty is quite remarkable and mostly based on capitalism and free trade.

The world GDP has increased 8 fold since 1960, while NZ GDP growth is well less than half of that.

I know GDP is a flawed metric, but it’s more flawed in richer countries. It counts for a fair bit in terms of getting clean drinking water and basic healthcare. The average life expectancy in Africa is about what it was in Europe in 1940, so there is progress.

The 1% are not hording all the cash and it is being spread about somewhat.  In the US about 10% of the population will spend at least one year of their lives in 2% of income earners and there is actually a lot of movement in who the top 1% are. If you name the fat cats that spring to mind – Bezos, Zuckerberg, Musk, Gate, Jobs, Buffet, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Bloomberg, Steve Ballmer, Jim Walton (these are the wealthiest top 10), none of them (or their families) were notably wealthy 50 years ago.  The good thing about the US is that there is a surprising movement who’s at the top. These people have all created something that was scalable and created a lot of jobs and economic activity. I’m not sure to many are likable but a list of socialist leaders would score lowly on likability too.

I’ve paid some of these people but only when I wanted to. I think they’ve added more to my world than I’ve paid for.

Here in NZ you’d reel off Rod Drury, Graham Hart, Sam Morgan, Rod Duke, Bob Jones, Peter Yealands, Chandler Bros – all of which are self-made.

Europe is much more old money and I agree that entrenched wealth is a problem. If you are rich, you should put it out there are risk losing it all. The funny thing about money is it’s hard not to risk it. They always like to say the rich ‘hog the wealth’ but they don’t just sit on it. The money must be invested in a myriad of businesses and so hopefully someone is using in wisely.

Racism is fundamental to human nature. The trust we have in others diminishes the further outwards we move. That is we trust our family , then our community, then city, country, country or religious alliances. The more someone is different in terms of culture, religion, language, the more suspicious of them we are and the less we can rely on the ‘social contract’ that me and some bloke from Dannevirke might have. Colonialism, slavery, immigration, etc may predominantly be motivated by capitalism and cause us to confront tensions in the social contract, but they are not the genesis of racism.

I agree we can easily become slaves to capitalism until we can quench our desire or abandon it. The same is true of conquest, lust, gluttony and a myriad of other things.  We’re not good with temptation. Again it isn’t capitalism, but human nature reflecting itself in a capitalist domain.

The environmental concerns are great, but slowly these are being addressed and the new generation think much differently about these things. Progress is frustratingly politicised and slow, but there is progress.  In our business and many others, the environmental impact of our activities is much less than it was 30 years ago, but it’s not likely to make headline news.

I’m totally with you in that there is no material difference between National and Labour. They are forced to the middle ground on all but a couple of issues. The government are the biggest corporate sponsors I’ve ever seen, dishing out money to big companies everywhere, while the little business dies quietly.

For me the problem is a failure of government in terms of good regulation.  Governments start wars, manage immigration, foreign investment, tax law, financial regulation and a whole lot of things that have caused endless problems. We have capitalism for the poor and socialism for the rich. If you are a bank it seems you cannot die, no matter how irresponsible you have been. Many big businesses should be broken up to avoid this moral hazard. Behind all excesses you see a failure of regulation. The GFC was caused by irresponsible banks but they were only allowed to be irresponsible because Clinton repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and no one put in decent regulations around derivatives. There are many small businesses who are good members of the community and the most repugnant are the very large multi-nationals that don’t have a community to care about. The most realistic (and I’d say best) solution is to fix capitalism.

I’m open to alternatives and quite keen on the revolution idea. My worry is that the alternative put up is socialism which killed off 100-200M people in the 20thC (Russia and China are cagey on the exact number) and revealed most of the vices of human nature even more viciously as capitalism has. My wife grew up under communism and isn’t a fan. It made people poorer. Socialism degraded and marginalised people, made them powerless to act and enslaved them in the gulags. It’s not a revolution I fancy. Systems fail because good people too seldom get to the top. Tyrants do.

So we’re agreed we need massive change and it will need a fight. That might be the easy bit as what you do when you’ve won the fight has proved a problem historically. A massive, bloody power struggle is mostly likely, with a really nasty bugger prevailing.

I’m going to start by being as good a capitalist as my nature allows. I believe that is what you’re doing too.

This is a limp solution I admit.

Paul
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10 June – David

Hi Paul,
Thanks for such a considered response.

I knew that I would immediately be regaled with all the great things that capitalism has done in bringing people out of poverty. I do not dispute that. It is not the past I am looking at but the future. George Monbiot put it really well: “Like coal, capitalism has brought many benefits. But, like coal, it now causes more harm than good. Just as we have found means of generating useful energy that are better and less damaging than coal, so we need to find means of generating human wellbeing that are better and less damaging than capitalism”.

And please note that I said “taming capitalism”. I did not say revolution or mention socialism! I am a business owner and I believe that businesses do not have to be profit machines for shareholders.

I would dispute that racism is innate. Early city states in the Middle East all had their own religion and each respected the others. When in their city I worshipped their gods. Then along came monotheism . . . and intolerance . . Lack of trust is not racism. But if you trust one person less than another because of their skin, then that is racism.

David
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10 June – David

OK so what do we do to tame capitalism? Here is my list in any order. These are just off the cuff notes, not something I have thoroughly thought through, so probably full of holes! It is just a very tentative start, but I agree with you, we need to do this.

New Zealand needs to build up a resilient independent economy. Some things will become very expensive or even unavailable, like maybe international travel. We are very lucky to be able to do this with a small, food producing population. Like with Covid, we can lead the world by example — let’s keep this momentum.

Any approach to structural change has to be two pronged:

— starting at local level from bottom up, we need to rebuild a sustainable resilient community that is as self-supporting as possible. And as a community we need to be strident about our demands on government, so that

— government puts pressure from the top down on those resistant to change. This requires that our democracy is sufficiently strong to respond to grass-roots demands for radical change, that it does not allow big business interests to prevail as they currently do.

Community needs to own its environment. Central government, aka big business right now, can’t override locals to impose, for example, mines or factory farming or fish depletion. We own and are responsible for the resources which are our lifeblood. If we deplete them then we suffer, so that is far less likely to happen. And only we profit from them, not an off-shore leech.

Government needs to be totally impartial to big business. We need a balanced triangle with community, government and business at each apex. Government’s role is to mediate between the other two. Business lobbying and political funding, ie buying influence, is illegal.

Fossil fuels can only be used to transition to renewables.

Any product that depletes resources irresponsibly or pollutes or uses slave labour is banned. That could be a local community thing again: we, as a community, do not want T-shirts made by child labour in sweat shops on sale here, and government can’t override that to back K-Mart.

Other imports are taxed highly, like pre Lange days, so that people are encouraged to buy local.

Everyone has to accept that we never had it so good as pre-Covid and never will again. That is the cost of saving human life as we know it. From here on it gets tough or we go bung — which will be a lot tougher!

There need to be incentives to repair not replace. Not just financial but moral. And to own less, to have less expectations, less sense of entitlement.

All ICE vehicles must be banned from city and town centres immediately. More people die from air pollution than Covid and many more are sick, especially children breathing air at a lower level close to exhausts. And banned totally as soon as can be made possible.

No carbon trading or off-setting. Everyone is responsible and can’t buy extravagances or simply plant trees. People and businesses pay a tax on the carbon they are responsible for. The tax money can only be used to combat climate change.

Tax regime encourages business to invest in R&D and people and is punitive on profit being creamed off unreasonably for shareholders and high director salaries.

I don’t know enough about it, but the doughnut economy sounds great.

It would be great to start a discussion to hammer these things out and to try and reach a local consensus. I am sure there are a lot more similar ideas.

David Trubridge
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11 June – Bruce Bisset

There’s no future in trying to “re-start” what we’ve had til now. What we need – as a country and a planet, not just Hawke’s Bay – is to re-focus on a “degrowth” economy, one that centralises people and communities and, preferably, does away with the profit motive altogether.

Because – and this is Gaia 101 – the world’s resources are both finite and rapidly being exhausted through capitalist greed. This makes collapse to barbarism likely within our grandchildren’s lifetimes.

So, if you want to talk about “the future”, make sure we actually have one to talk about! Which means something that is sustainable, in the true sense of that word; something that lasts for as long as we can conceive.

Among the many things we need to do to achieve this, perhaps the most important is land-use reform. The land-barons who currently hold the country in thrall via the “grow more/export more” corporate model need to be done away with, by repurposing large farms into sustainable family- and community-based enterprises whose main purpose is simply to sustain those working the land. Existing farmers will be valued for their expertise and ability to train urban wanna-bes into useful production… but they cannot stand in the way.

Only by having a robust network of small landholdings that directly supports, say, half the population on farms whilst also feeding the other half, can we hope to also have industrial and technological businesses that maintain some semblance of our present level of civilisation.

People see this “pastoral fortress mentality” as somehow bad. On the contrary: it’s a living future, as opposed to a dead one. And New Zealand is one of very few places in the world where it could be successfully done – to sustainable, lasting effect.

Bruce
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 11 June – Paul

Loving the discussion. I fell for the bait and more juicy morsels followed. I will try to resist.

I reckon hard core racism is actually quite rare because, what’s the point? What it mostly is reflects a mistrust borne of cultural misalignment. The Maori/Pakeha tension is like this. Maori look across the table and see the mild-manner, Judaeo-Christian morality that they know will  most likely be abandoned the minute there’s a dollar in it. The Pakeha looks across the table and sees mumbo jumbo spiritual beliefs they know will most likely give way to western IP rights if there’s a dollar in it. So the mistrust is based on the metaphysical beliefs that have been distilled over 50 generations, while universal flaws in human nature prevail.

It’s a complex world, so our brains create banal oversimplifications about people based on race, religion, ethnicity, age, sex, fashion sense or whatever. These are often based on prior experience and may have some utility. The key is to keep reminding yourself that you’re dealing with an individual that may not fit the bias. I think this natural process is what we label as racism, in its stupidest form or when we want to demonise our adversary. I do think it’s an incurable function of our brains that we can only ameliorate in the mindful present.

The bias is somewhat eliminated with broader exposure. Your are right in that in, say the Levant, various culture and religions (even monotheistic ones,) lived harmoniously for centuries. That trust builds up over generations particularly when you grow up playing games with them. On the rugby field there is no Maori/Pakeha misalignment.

I love the phrase ‘taming capitalism’. There’s a book in that, with contributors already assembled.

Paul
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11 June – Bruce

i suspect i’m the outlier in this group, but that’s par.  because i don’t think you can “tame” capitalism – at least, not without restructuring it so thoroughly it no longer resembles anything we’d consider capitalism.

per this discussion, as example, i ref the list of “notable kiwi rich-listers” Paul put up: “Here in NZ you’d reel off Rod Drury, Graham Hart, Sam Morgan, Rod Duke, Bob Jones, Peter Yealands, Chandler Bros – all of which are self-made”.  with the exception of Yealands (a convicted fraudster), none of them actually MAKE anything, as such.  most of them have made their fortunes by being clever at manipulating money and ideas – ie, using financial markets to their advantage, and being good at acquisitions and mergers – or in IT. and while IT is a valid need in our techno society, it’s still intrinsically virtual reality. point being, none of them create goods that people rely on for survival. and the corresponding US list is much the same. and these are our “best”???

aside, i despise the label “self-made”. no-one is self-made; fortunes are made off the backs of the people who actually do the work – generally without recognition and for insufficient reward.

and that’s the basic problem: capitalism is a greed-based system that relies on a fiction (money) to work… at the cost of the world’s most precious resources, which are both real and finite.

don’t get me wrong, you boys are making progress…. but so long as you continue to look at the world with this fiction entrenched in your minds, any “solution” you come up with will fail.

however, i didn’t come here for an argument; just to give Tom some copy to work with. so, carry on debating…..

Bruce
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11 June – David

At heart Bruce I agree with you, capitalism is shit . .

But the problem is that this discussion that Tom instigated is not about what has gone wrong — we all agree on that — but about what to do about it.  That is a lot harder!

I deliberately said “tame capitalism” not because I have any desire to see it continue, but because I think doing that has the best chance of getting somewhere. To talk of alternatives like revolution, socialism or, god forbid, communism, will scare far too many people off and we will get nowhere. The problem, I think, is that those alternatives are somehow too dated. Even if at core they have something to offer, they don’t have a good image today. I think we can be creative and come up with small community based initiatives that take more from indigenous cultures than from the ‘West’. And don’t use any names!

David
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11 June – Bruce

Yes, it’s a damn shame Stalin & Mao fucked up those philosophies so badly.  a network of community-based governance is imho exactly what’s needed … and what is that if not “communism”?

but tbh the main problem is debt. having a means of exchange that did not necessarily require goods-for-goods barter wasn’t a bad idea; where it went wrong was as soon as someone realised you could use money itself to make more money… and consequently enslave people with debt. in an idealised society all work has equal value… predicated on the “honest reward for honest toil” maxim, without distinction.

co-operation – as Darwin pointed out, but which financiers & war-mongers ever since have misquoted into competitive “survival of the fittest” usury – is actually the driving reason for human evolution. truly cooperative societies don’t recognise “debt”. no person should be able to own another. that’s the basic human right right there.

Bruce
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12 June – Paul

Bruce is on to one of the fundamentals here – reform of the monetary system. Two toxic components are loose regulation of the money supply through bank credit, which is mostly in the hands of private banks. Secondly strong regulation of the derivatives market where a lot of money is speculated in ‘financial weapons of mass destruction’ with no benefit to society apart from enriching the traders.

Since going off the gold standard, credit expansion has gotten out of hand and in real terms NZ is poorer than a couple of generations ago. England ran an economy for a couple of hundred years with no inflation. Inflation is necessary in the age of endless credit expansion.

The problem with the system proposed is that it’s a subsistence society. Technology can solve a lot of problems in healthcare and the environment, but its expensive to develop and implement.

I don’t think profit or capitalism is inherently evil. Profit becomes bad when the shareholders are disconnected with the employees and the community. Most small business people I know take huge personal risks in starting businesses, are kind to their staff and have broader community interests. They are not the rapacious profit at all costs types. So it’s big corporations, particularly multinationals that are the worry. A shareholder in NY, doesn’t care about what impacts a mine has in the Phillipines or how many die down the shaft. The ONLY thing that matters is the share price and dividends. They don’t really have any skin in the game other than at a selfish and superficial level.

This mentality causes the appointment of CEO’s that are brutal. Maybe that’s why I’m less offended by Trump than some others because I’ve dealt with a lot of his type. They talk big and bombastic and seem to need to say plenty that reflects ego and malevolence. If you let them run, then maybe even give them a faux compliment, you can get down to business and usually decent outcomes. It requires you to tolerate their repulsiveness. These types are 99% men and that’s not sexism. In terms of traits like low agreeableness, low compassion, high aggressiveness, need for dominance, men and women are similar, but the distribution for men has ‘fat tails’. So if you’re looking for the most disagreeable person in 10,000, it’s very likely to be a man. This is why they totally dominate the stats for murder convictions or imprisonment generally. If you are smart enough to control your actions then you get to be CEO, but for the big companies these are predominantly. The Stalin’s and Hitler’s of the future will continue to be men.

Profit in our company has always been modest and dividends over 20 years 0.2% of profits. Everything get ploughed back in. Now I’m working on solar panels on the roof to dramatically reduce our power consumption and technology that will reduce agrichemical use by 50%. This stuff takes a lot of R&D to develop and it’s expensive for us to adopt. Without profits, what economists call ‘capital formation’ cannot occur.

Positive impacts even occur from big corporations. The US companies that invested in China and take all the profits back home, weren’t the big beneficiaries. The jobs and economic activity in China was the winner a companies are 95% a big money-go-round. The multiplier effect of this in the NZ regions is estimated to be about 2.7 times a company’s turnover as employees and service industries benefit. So the winners are those where the economic activity occurs much more than where the profits go. What is required is to deal with the environmental impacts, worker exploitation and the other nasty side effects in developing economies. For that you need good regulation and where possible to internalise the negative externalities.

Capitalism and democracy drive me crazy but they have delivered the best world we’ve ever had. On the whole this is the fairest, kindest, richest, freest society in history. You could argue that 1973 might be marginally better, but this is roughly the best time in history to be alive and the majority of people in most countries would take the deal today over the way it was 100 or 500 or 2000 years ago when short lives and brutal tyrannies were ubiquitous. The news media love miserable stories, but actually we’re tracking OK. Still there are a lot of things to sort out. Tinkering is much safer than revolution if you’re going to get it wrong and the better a society gets, the more you are likely to get it wrong. I’m keen on the revolution, but it needs to be meticulously thought out and planned for. Mostly they are about destroying the perceived ‘evil’ which is followed by a world that is no better. That is what we will get again unless most likely.

The ultimate collapse is going to be of the financial system most likely. The guilty party won’t be capitalism but the failure of government to budget prudently and adequately regulate. If you look at the great depression or even the GFC, that was the case.

Paul
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13 June – Bruce

sigh. that’s what i call the “yes, but” argument. “yes the system’s bad but we can fix it if we take more care”.

the problem is that it’s predicated on the basis of endless resources. driving off the cliff in a Tesla instead of a Chevy.

it also relies on another little thing we have no more of: time.

because regardless of the make of vehicle, we are already over the cliff, and falling. all we can do now is try to make the landing as soft as possible.

there are 3 possible options: immediately deploy a parachute in order to try to retain a modicum of technology so as to hope to have more than a subsistence society; look for a bush or a snowdrift to soften the landing (ie plan for such a society that’s better than mere subsistence); or hit the ground hard and descend into barbarism.

currently we are doing the latter.

it makes no difference whether you’re the driver or in the back seat. or jumping out the window. this is why this is also called “yes but it’s not my fault” argument – it’s the fault of ALL of us, and we will all pay the price.

i agree that we have lived/are living in the best of all possible times… and this is what i console myself with. i am personally at the point where, regardless i am still trying to make what difference i can for whatever that’s worth, i am now at base simply enjoying it. knowing it won’t last; knowing my children are likely doomed to live lives of unrelenting hardship and despair; knowing we all fucked up. what else can i do?

nothing except urge those of you who have some bounce and sway to sew like crazy to make that parachute.

sadly, you’re our only hope.

Bruce
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13 June – Paul

Bruce,
I like the analogies.

Most people don’t think we’re out of time or they’d behave differently. As the ‘we’re doomed’ story gets more inflated the more people seem to disbelieve.

I agree that a hard landing and barbarism is the mostly likely outcome eventually.  Democracy will ensure it, but alternatives have limited appeal. The best policies are inconvenient and always get watered down for votes. A benign global dictatorship is definitely better but dictators have a bad history of remaining benign.

I think Technology is our only hope and there are some potentially huge breakthroughs on energy production in the works.

Also the best thing is to make the poorer parts of the world richer fast. This makes them more aware of the environment and much less likely to have so many kids. I think we could have a falling population in 30 years.

The questions you pose is the right one – how much time to we have and is it enough for the solution we’re backing. After a lot of reading, I still don’t know. There are too many variables.

The plan is…muddle through. That’s dissapointing and won’t make the front page for Tom.

Paul
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13 June – Bruce

Paul:
I’d be happy to be wrong. i’m sorry to say i don’t think i am. but good luck to you, IF you’re at least trying to make a difference. at base, that’s all any of us can do. that, and hold to a smidgen of hope.

Bruce
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14 June – Paul

Agreed. Short of being appointed fascist leader, you can only build a better situation by changing what you can. Then maybe you can inspire friends, neighbors & the ripples can make a difference.

I’m reading a bit about the environmental impact of food production & there is a vast difference between food types. The numbers are actually quite country specific. People are obsessed with transport but food’s a big deal. The ‘local’ trend is helping but mostly motivated by a sense of community rather than climate change.

I’m worried beer needs a lot of energy to make.

This US page is a good summary. They could move the dial by simply giving up beef.

_____

Last word:

David:
So Tom, you have your feedback from us. What do you want us to do now?

Start a revolution?!

 

 

 

Tom Belford19 July 2020

One response to “Re-boot or Revolution?”

  1. Bruce Bisset says:

    and in answer to David’s last question, one word: YES! :)

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